Alignment on fitness, meaning

[First, previous, next in series]

Almost there! This is the eighth of nine articles in a series exploring the matrix below (introduced here), and we’re halfway down the right-hand column “Values-based leadership”.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 19.16.55

Alignment on fitness (for purpose)

Most teams I encounter have little difficulty in articulating both their purpose (what they do and why it matters) and the purpose of their wider organisation. With some prompting, they can come up with measures of their fitness for purpose. Do they regularly explore fitness for purpose? Plan for future fitness? Often not.

Many teams ask a different set of questions: Are we on track? How do we get back on track? What are our issues? How do we resolve them? There’s a place for such questions, but they’re project-focused, doing little to drive the health and growth of the delivery system.

A powerful way to institute a more service-oriented approach is to implement effective feedback loops that explicitly address various dimensions of fitness for purpose. Kanban has an established pattern for this, the service delivery review. Here’s the regular agenda for one I introduced a few months ago:

  1. User feedback (unsolicited) and user research (solicited)
  2. Helpdesk incidents
  3. Production events – releases, incidents, etc
  4. Volumes – this week’s and projected
  5. Channel shift, marketing activity, seasonal behaviour
  6. Production metrics
  7. Delivery update – recent deliveries, lead times and delivery rate metrics

By design, it starts near the customer and works backwards. “Are we on track?” comes a long way behind “Are we set up to maintain good service?” Clearly, it’s a pivotal meeting, an ideal opportunity to maintain alignment on outcomes (the second in this series) and capability (the fifth).

Alignment on meaning

How do people find meaning in work? It’s important to understand that there are many answers to this question. Yes, there is meaning to be found in contributing to the purpose and fitness of the organisation, but it would be self-serving of managers to assume that this is the only source. People find meaning in their relationships with colleagues, their identification with team or role, their responsibilities, or the quality of their craft. Those aside, earning a crust for their families might be reason enough! Assuming that they are able to contribute (or that impediments to contribution are being addressed in good faith) I’ve come to conclusion that there are few wrong answers at the individual level.

If the team as a whole however lacks concern for purpose, fitness, its shape, the quality of its work, or its economics, there’s a problem. This is not just a coaching problem, it’s likely to be symptomatic of bigger issues – the organisation itself losing its way at some level, recruiting poorly, managing ineffectively, structured unhelpfully. Alignment on meaning is therefore part of the longer game of leadership, part of the feedback process that ensures that we’re building organisations that know what they’re about and are in it for the long term.

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